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August 01, 2014
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Political representation in the Town of Delaware

Liam Murphy

During a heated discussion at the Delaware Town Board meeting last week, it was said that New York State embraces a representative model of government. This is true. But that does not mean that the proper attitude of elected officials is: “We won, we call the shots.” Though part of what it means to represent is to fulfill a mandate by enacting the policies you campaigned on, more important is the idea that the representative is a trustee, looking out for the welfare of all constituents.

At the center of the debate was another political idea—property rights. A gas-mining resolution passed by the board in June basically says that landowners can exploit their mineral rights in any way they see fit. Some seemed to think that this is just what it means to have property rights. But that’s clearly not so. My property rights are not violated by the Delaware zoning law that prohibits me from putting a swimming pool in my front yard. Delaware has a comprehensive plan, last updated in 2010. The first stated objective is to “preserve and respect the rights to use of private property by limiting land use regulations to those essential to the health, safety and welfare of the community and for addressing land use conflicts.” The June resolution is not consistent with this objective. The comprehensive plan has it right: to have property rights does not mean that you can do what you want with your land, without regard to the effects on other people.

So there are important decisions for a representative government to make here. How well did our town board do in representing us? Questions can be raised about the strength of its mandate. But more important, the board has completely failed to fulfill the duties of a trustee. If gas mining comes to our town, it will change it dramatically and permanently—accountability at the next election is not an adequate safeguard in this case. The evident purpose of passing the June resolution was to send a signal to Governor Cuomo that gas mining is welcome in Delaware. That the board took this step with no public notice and no consideration of the impact of gas mining on the community as a whole is nothing short of scandalous.

The board should rescind its June resolution and institute a process that will allow the full range of issues that are relevant to the health, safety and welfare of the community to be studied. State and federal agencies continue to investigate the obvious environmental concerns. What this town urgently needs is a serious study of the economic impact of gas mining on our community.
It is often said that mining will bring jobs and prosperity to the area. But it is far from clear that this is true. It seems more likely that a very small number of people would benefit from gas mining; many others would be adversely affected through increased taxes and reduced property values, and very few long-terms jobs for local people would be created. Momentous decisions concerning the future of our town should not be based on hunches and wishful thinking.

Two members of the town board have expressed reservations about the process leading up to the June resolution. And the town supervisor, in indicating his support for a commission to look into gas mining, acknowledged a perception in the community of a breakdown in good governance. To restore representative government in the Town of Delaware, the first step must be to toss out that shameful resolution.

[Liam Murphy is a resident of Kenoza Lake, NY in the Town of Delaware. He is a professor of law and philosophy at New York University.]

Town of Delaware's pattern of not implementing Comp. Plan

This is not the first time they have ignored the first objective in their comprehensive plan, before making major decisions. Take a ride up on Swiss Hill North and observe, in my opinion, blatant misuse of authority. You cannot have a swimming pool in your front yard, but you can have an industrial wood processing facility (in direct opposition to a lengthy list of zoning laws that created a huge GRAY area, yet the town did not implement zoning 1202 where the more restrictive zoning laws shall prevail in any conflict in terminology) less than 150-250 feet in any direction from homes and prized agricultural properties. The surrounding pre-existing property owners suffered the exact indiginities you mention, impact from property value loss, health, safety, round the clock excessive noise and welfare of the community, as well as not protecting agriculture as the most important part of the plan. Again, the town failed to step back and consider the surrounding property owners before they began issuing segemented permits. They also failed to protect us from VOC emmisions which result in EACH stage of logging/firewood drying. And now they are allowing a 2nd kiln to be added to the business to increase pollution, noise, traffic, etc. against the unaddressed appeals submitted by surrounding property owners. The attached website indicates this business entitiy is detrimental to all of our health and well being. (http://www.nrem.iastate.edu/class/assets/for486/Readings/Emissions%20fro...) I wouldn't expect to see any deviation in pattern when it comes to fracking. Tossing out the shameful resolution is not the first step needed, in my opinion. Perhaps the fist step is to toss out the existing officals come next election. Nancy Bivins